St. Louis ribs are the gold standard for many dedicated meat lovers, although St. Louis battles for the title of best ribs in the United States with a few other cities in the Southern states. This city’s claim to fame, though, is its generous employment of sweet barbecue sauce which makes sticky, messy and incredible ribs grilled to perfection. Locals differ on the best place to sample the true St. Louis style BBQ in all its glory – staunch loyalty to one joint or another can make it difficult to get an unbiased opinion – but it’s agreed that a few restaurants in St. Louis stand out as offering the best examples of Missouri ‘s distinctive ribs. These five restaurants are a guide for any food tourist who wants to sample the rich history and flavors of St. Louis’ ribs.
Order a half or a full slab of ribs here and go crazy on the sauces. Bogart’s, on 9th street, is open for lunch between Tuesday and Saturday; with limited hours and enormous popularity comes the inevitable line-up but Bogart’s ribs make it worth the wait. A smoky bark provides a crispy compliment to the impossibly tender meat. Although the ribs are flavorful enough as a standalone, the four house sauces on offer – sweet, spicy, fruity, tangy – are a barbecue lovers’ dream. The high quality at Bogart’s extends to both the traditional sides, like slaw and baked beans, and the decadent specials including the sinful pork skins.
Piccadilly, located in a cozy residential part of St. Louis, doesn’t stand out as a BBQ restaurant, favoring a more varied menu. BBQ purists shouldn’t be put off, however; the half or full racks of baby back ribs on offer more than live up to the St. Louis standard. For those who want to try something a little different, the short rib pot pie is a great way to sample the restaurant’s tender, smoky rib meat. Short rib cuts, brisket and traditional mash fill the crust for a BBQ-in-a-pie experience. Crazy, but it works!
The antithesis of Roper’s ribs, you won’t get a traditional meat feast with fixins at The Shaved Duck. What you will get, however, is a gourmet spread and a tender, slow cooked plate of ribs with a distinctive rub. The meat is as tender and as tasty as would be to be expected after six hours of smoking and although the rub slightly overpowers the smoky aroma, it’s just sweet-and-spicy enough to justify the stronger tones. The real menu highlight here, though, is the "smothered fries"; a cheesy sauce smothering crispy fries topped with succulent pulled rib meat.
While Pappy’s is a must-eat for all BBQ fans in general, it’s the ribs that keep meat lovers coming back for more here. Listed as the "house specialty" for good reason, the ribs at Pappy’s are painstakingly slowly smoked over apple and cherry wood. The flavors are absorbed into the meat and contained within a perfectly crispy crust flavored with the slightly hot dry rub (the recipe of which is a well guarded house secret). A variety of decent secret-recipe house sauces are on offer, allowing you to adjust the sweetness or spiciness of the ribs to your taste.
Many St. Louis locals agree that Roper’s shows off St. Louis ribs at their very best. The style and situation of this small and unassuming joint, slightly off the beaten track for some tourists, belies the incredible artistry of their meats. The slow-smoked ribs come generously glazed in a sweet sauce, with a vaguely tangy undertone that compliments the smoky flavor of the meat perfectly. The tips and snoots are another local specialty which are done particularly well here, and are certainly worth trying if you find you still have room.